Q: Recently completing my 12th trip to Iceland, the changes in tourism are quite remarkable... 1.7 million tourists per year and counting. Visiting the south beaches, the glaciers in the southeast, the Golden Circle, Þingvellir, and other areas.
Iceland and the appeal for Iceland have changed. Environmentally sensitive areas are showing visual degradation. My question is: what is the long-term goal of the Icelandic people and the parliament regarding future tourism in Iceland?
Brant Oxford, US
A: In her article ‘S.O.S.’ from the third issue of Iceland Review magazine 2016, Zoë Robert writes:
In October last year, a five-year Road Map for Tourism in Iceland was published and a Tourism Task Force has been set up to tackle tasks to “lay the solid foundations that are needed in the Icelandic tourism industry.” The work plan priorities for 2016-2017 include increasing the safety of tourists by, among other things, harmonizing information and signposting throughout the country to reduce travel-related accidents and expenses. In late March, 66 projects around the country received grants from the Tourism Development Fund; 37 of which focus on improving safety.
A diverse set of measures is being suggested, Ólöf [Ýrr Atladóttir, director of the Iceland Tourist Board] explains. “We have various tools in our toolbox—information such as signs, human contact, wardens. We could of course ensure safety in a major, dramatic way. We could put up Plexiglas at Gullfoss for people to look through; we can restrict accessibility but we are reluctant to place so severe restrictions on our visitors’ experiences. We need to define the appropriate tools for our natural attractions and use them together in a strategic way.” One idea is to limit the number of people who can visit certain places, like popular hiking areas. Jónas [Guðmundsson, project manager of ICE-SAR, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue] points to the Inca Trail in Peru and the Milford Track in New Zealand, where limits are placed on the number of visitors at any one time to protect the environment, the experience of hikers and their security. Thus, people have to book in advance. This is something which has been suggested for the popular Laugavegur walking trail in the south-central highlands.
Some have questioned why it took so long to come up with a plan but, as Ólöf explains, a strategy was devised in 2010. It was, however, never put into action and no agency was given the mandate to follow up on it. It has since needed to be fully revised, given the skyrocketing tourist numbers and the change in tourist behavior. “The expectations and behaviors of visitors to Iceland have developed in past years. People wish to have a reciprocal experience, they want to take control of their own experience. They are more independent—more rent their own cars—there is also a generational shift towards outdoor activities but they don’t necessarily know the realities of Iceland,” she explains.
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